|Residents in a queue waiting for their turn at a public toilet|
Auntie Alima – 47, is a resident at Kanda Ruga, near Nima in Accra, who has lived for years in a compound house that has no toilet facility.
As a result, she and her three children have had to fall on a public toilet which is about 10 minutes walk, anytime they have to attend to nature’s call.
They however, are only able to use one of the public toilets in their vicinity – the much preferred KVIP, in view of its comparatively low charge, after paying 5 Ghana Pesewas per head.
Just one visit to the public toilet in a day by Auntie Alima’s family means they have to part with 20 Ghana Pesewas daily, while for a week, they will have to pay a total of GH¢1.40p and GH¢6.20 for a month of 31 days.
Visiting the public toilet more than once in the day by any member of Auntie Alima’s family only means more cost on toilet and even higher expenditure if they decide to use the other facility in the same vicinity – a water closet toilet which charges 20 Ghana Pesewas per head, per visit.
“I feel so bad when I have to go to toilet at night; I have sometimes gone to the public latrine at 1am and 11pm,” she lamented when she narrated how the lack of a toilet facility in her household impacts on her life.
Auntie Alima’s daily quandary is just but a drop in the ocean, as a snap shot survey of some toilet facilities in two selected low income and informal communities – Nima and Accra New Town, which was conducted by members of the Ghana Watsan Journalists Network (GWJN) with the support of Water Aid in Ghana in the first half of the month of November, 2010 showed.
Currently, Nima’s population is estimated to be more than 69,000, with the number of houses in the town calculated to be in the region of 2,400. This translates into an average household size of less than five.
On the other hand, the current population of Accra New Town is pegged at 45,130, while there are 1738 houses with an average house size of 4.4.
The survey, which formed part of a campaign by the GWJN dubbed “Drop it in a Hole”, to commemorate World Toilet Day, which is being marked worldwide today and locally at the Moshi Zongo in Kumasi with its theme as – “Sanitation is Dignity, Hygiene is Health”, brought to the fore the absence of latrines in the average Ghanaian household and the disgusting state of most of the few public toilets provided by Local Government Authorities.
A visit to a household of 13 people in Nima also revealed the absence of a household latrine and it was established that a pan latrine that used to be in operation was no more functioning because the night soil carriers, who were mostly Losos and Dagaartis hailing from Northern Togo and Northern Ghana respectively were no more available for that job.
Narrating his daily ordeal as a result of the absence of a toilet in the household, Mr. Murtala Ibrahim, a driver with a construction company, said: “I have no other choice though, than to join a queue at the public toilet when I meet one. It means whenever I am hard pressed I have to rush to the toilet early so that I would be able to empty my bowels in good time before I soil myself.”
Expressing the desire of his household members to have their own place of convenience, preferably a water closet, Mr. Ibrahim said that was being hampered by the unavailability of funds to undertake such project, as they are mostly unemployed or do not have permanent jobs.
However, he said: “There is no privacy or comfort in using the public toilet. At times people will be waiting in a queue for you to finish. Other times people will be shouting out to you that you are taking too long in the toilet and must come out so they can use it too.”
“We will certainly want to have our own latrine in the house. If it is provided for us we will definitely pay for its construction once we see that it has been provided,” Murtala Ibrahim stressed.
The two toilets provided by the AMA for the East Ayawaso Sub Metro, numbered 16 for males and females, were a beehive of activities with both sexes visiting the facility every minute when the group visited in the morning.
Confirming the high patronage, the attendant in charge of the place Nii Tettey, said at the peak, as many as 1,500 people visit the facilities daily.
In an interview, Thomas Badewan (in his early 20s), who had just finished using the facility, said he lives in a compound house which has about 25 people but no toilet facility, so they all use the public toilet.
He said “if anybody in the household experiences an upset stomach in the middle of the night, they ease themselves inside the big drain or run to the public toilet,” which is open all day and charges 5Gp.
Thomas, who has lived in the community for four months, said when he visits the toilet at about 5am there is always a queue of about 10 people and he has to wait patiently for his turn to use the toilet.
“When I find it difficult to hold myself up as I wait for my turn, there is nothing I can do,” he bemoaned.
Another patron, Doris, who had just finished using the facility, reluctantly granted an interview. Doris a hairdresser, said she has lived in the Nima community for two years, during which period she has always used the public toilet.
According to 26-year-old Doris, she has had to resort to use of the public toilet because her household of about 20 tenants which is about five minutes walk away, does not have a latrine.
Commenting on how using the facility impacts upon her life, Doris said “Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad,” explaining that “Sometimes when you come in the morning the place has not been cleaned but sometimes when you come it is good.”
“I have never come here at night before but sometimes I come at dawn and meet a queue; other times there is no queue,” Doris, who is single and has no children said.
“There is another public toilet facility around my home but I prefer to come here just as other people, because the squat hole of that toilet is too big (bigger than the space left for your two feet) that I may have my foot slipping into it unlike this one. Moreover, this place is cleaner than that facility. I have been there once but I realised that place is not good for me,” she intimated.
“Every toilet has some stench emanating from it so much cannot be done about that, but sometimes when you come here in the afternoon, the stench is unbearable,” she stated further.
For her part, 20-year-old Mary Nartey, a dress maker, who was born after the facility was built, said “I have no other choice than to use the public toilet for my needs as a woman, since there is no such facility in my home.”
Still at Nima at a suburb known as Alata a 13-roomed compound house with an average of 6 members per household was visited. It was found out that there was no toilet facility and all had to depend on a communal latrine, which is about 5- minutes walk from the house.
50-year-old Lawrence Yeboah is a tenant in the household who has a wife and four children. A driver working with Alitalia Airlines, Mr. Yeboah’s whose eldest child is 24yrs has lived in the household for 20 yrs.
He intimated that at first there was a pan latrine in the house, but that has been condemned because of the ban that has been imposed and they all have to make do with the public latrine which charges 10 Ghana Pesewas per visit.
According to him, although the tenants have spoken to the landlord about the need to have a latrine in the household, they are yet to see any action on that.
“It is sometimes difficult when we have to visit the toilet at night. At times it is very late and certain times there is power outage. Most households in the area do not have latrines,” he volunteered.
Mr. Yeboah supplied further that although he now lives with only his wife, all his children grew up there with them, adding that there is neither soap nor water at the public toilet they visit each day.
Mariama Suraju, 35, who lives in the same household intimated that when her baby attends to nature’s call in a chamber pot she has to take it all the way to the public toilet to empty it and pay 5 Ghana Pesewas, adding however, that when the little one aged 1½ years eases himself in his diapers, she disposes of it as part of the household garbage.
48-year-old Adasa Kofi, a tenant in another household who has lived there for 20 years with wife and two kids also has had no toilet facility in the household, since a room that used to house a pan latrine has been converted into a room for a tenant.
All tenants now use a privately-owned public toilet close by, as no toilet facility has been built since the pan latrine was destroyed.
In Ghana, the absence of basic toilet facilities in households has not only resulted in open defecation known as ‘free range’, but also long toilet queues at public places of convenience mostly in the mornings and what has now been labelled as ‘wrap and throw’ where people ease themselves, wrap their excreta in black polythene bags and throw them over their walls or into public drains.
Kwasi Acheampong, 26, who lives in a compound house with as many as 26 different tenants and their families, says he patronises the drain as a toilet because there is no toilet facility in his house, while the nearest public toilet at Nima is about a kilometre away.
For his part, a resident of New Town Timber Market, Gabriel Midodzi, 68, explained that the distance people have to walk before reaching the nearest public toilet facility is one of the causes of open defecation in the area. “Coupled with this is the fact that they are not prepared to part with 10 pesewas to visit the public toilet, or 20 pesewas for the privately built toilets,” he added.
Kwaku Nyarko, 31, a driver’s apprentice who had just defecated into a big drain between Paloma Hotel and a Total fuel station off the Ring Road, Accra, confirmed Mr. Midodzi’s assertion, adding that there are about 40 tenants where he lives at Kokomlemle with no toilet facility.
“We have to walk for at least seven minutes to go and queue at the nearest public toilet at Nima,” he stated.
According to the JMP report on sanitation in Africa, open defecation rate in Ghana only reduced marginally from 24% in 1990 to 20% in 2006. This negative practice is therefore still quite phenomenal in the country, as the GWJN’s rounds showed.
Both local and international reports indicate that more than four million people in Ghana resort to defecating in bushes, drains, and in fields.
According to the Ghana Statistical Service Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey report for 2006, open defecation is prevalent in all the ten regions, but most widespread in the Upper East Region with about 82% without any form of latrine engaging in the practice, followed by the Upper West Region with about 79% and then the Northern Region with about 73%.
According to the most recent report on sanitation of the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF, only about 2.2 million people in Ghana have access to decent household toilets. This means the remainder are using shared facilities or engaging in open defecation.
Meanwhile, according to Lukman Salifu, Consultant to Ghana’s Technical Committee on Sanitation and Water for All Global Partnership (SWA), open defecation is increasing the country’s common diseases burden.
Addressing a Consultative Workshop on preparation towards the first annual High Level Meeting (HLM) on SWA in Accra on Tuesday March 16, 2010, he quoted the open defecation rates in Ghana by region for 2006 which was published in 2008, as ranging from 3.4% for the Ashanti Region to 81.9% for the Upper East Region.
Between them is the Eastern Region with 5.5%, Brong Ahafo, 6.4%; Greater Accra, 8.1%; Western, 12.8%; Central, 18.1%; Volta, 13.8%; Northern, 72.9% and Upper West, 78.7%.
Sub Metro’s Reaction
The group began its field work with a visit to the Ayawaso East Sub-Metro office where it made some enquiries on the number of sanitation facilities that have been provided by the sub-metro for the people in its jurisdiction.
At the sub-metro office, an official who spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed that “people cannot have facilities constructed for them, because of the lack of space and accessibility for dislodgement.” The source said the unavailability of water is also a factor.
“If Accra must develop, it must stick to the original plan of the city. That will mean moving of encroachers from land designated for roads, sanitation facilities, dump sites etc.,” the source continued.
Touching on the type of facilities used by households in the sub-metro, the official disclosed: “Pan latrines form the majority in the sub-metro.”
Commenting on how the system can be effectively banned, he opined that assistance must be given to the numerous households to convert their toilets to flush toilets, saying “That is the only way pan latrines can be eradicated.”
According to the official too, “Pit latrines are not suitable for Accra because it is sandy and pits can cave in easily.” He added other factors that make pit latrines impracticable as the very strong stench that emanates from them and the high water table of Accra.
He also said the KVIP latrine model cannot work properly because of the high water table – which means when a hole is abandoned if it is full, the faeces cannot turn into humus as should be the case.
The official also divulged that in view of the water from the soil, people who construct KVIP line the pits with cement blocks “and when it is full water is poured in and pounded to soften faeces for dislodging by tanks.”
To him, the construction of boreholes can make the construction of water closets worth the while, because water will be made available to flush the toilets. He added that construction of the Accra Sewerage system would be a major leap forward in the provision of improved sanitation facilities if it is done.
The source lamented that the sanitation situation has reached crisis point, where open defecation is practiced inside major drains in Accra, citing the Odaw drain, Paloma drain and Akweteyman drain as major areas where the practice is carried out shamelessly.
Oh how the practice of open defecation can be nipped in the bud, Mr. L. A. Quarcoo, Environmental Health and Sanitation Officer, Ayawaso East sub metro, opined that open defecation could be tackled if the sanitation staff were well resourced and given additional duty hour allowances (ADHA) to enable them work very early in the morning and late in the night to arrest perpetrators.
He also indicated the sub-metro’s plan to work with Watch Dog Committees to confront the menace.
According to Mr. Quarcoo, the Sub-metro is scouting for spots where communal septic tanks, for instance for about ten homes, could be constructed for common use and subsequent connection to a central sewerage systems once the Accra Sewerage Improvement Project (ASIP) is completed.
For his part, Chairman of the Ayawaso East Sub-metro, Alhaji Abdul Razak Aliu, assured that health inspectors go round from time to time to check the sanitary conditions of the toilets. According to him, the Sub-metro was ensuring that those tasked to manage toilets render proper accounts and manage them efficiently, failure of which will result in sanctions by the sub metro.
Regarding the continued use of pan latrines which have been banned, Alhaji Aliu indicated that some contractors had been contacted to assist households by constructing toilet facilities for them and spreading the payment over a period.